When two become one: Marriage, separated from procreation, loses it meaning

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It's no secret that Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland, his wife, Michelle, and I are very good friends. (For proof, check the front page of this week's Pittsburgh Catholic.)

We have traveled to Rome and the Holy Land together. Each year, Rabbi Bisno comes to the Christmas Eve Mass at Saint Paul Cathedral. Each year, I go to Rodef Shalom to commemorate the Jewish High Holy Day, Yom Kippur. We have shared everything from good meals to even better conversation. We trust each other with our struggles and our joys.

We both realize that, while our friendship is personal, it also means more than that. Publicly representing the Jewish and Catholic communities, our friendship is within a much larger context. We have been able to use our friendship to further enhance Jewish and Catholic relations in Pittsburgh, while working together, we hope, for the good of the whole community of southwestern Pennsylvania.

This is why I'd like to respond to Rabbi Bisno's Forum commentary last week in the Post-Gazette, "The Jewish Case for Marriage Equality." My friend Aaron calls for support of same-sex marriage based on the concept of individual rights. "Judaism teaches that all human beings are equal, unique and of infinite worth," Rabbi Bisno wrote. By refusing to accept same-sex marriage, he argues, society fails to "honor every person's divine likeness."

No one, I hope and pray, would argue against the infinite worth of the individual. And central to Catholic understanding is that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. Without exception!

But the inherent disagreement I have with my friend's argument is that he defines marriage in the context of the individual. Marriage has never been understood in faith or society as based on an individual's self-definition. Marriage has always been defined and understood as two becoming one to create life, to create family, to create society, to create goodness through the generations.

Just as the friendship between Rabbi Bisno and myself means more than just our two individual lives, marriage means far more than two individuals taking on a contract, taking on a relationship. If it was that alone, any relationship could be a marriage, any relationship could be recognized by the community, any relationship could receive the benefits the state grants.

No! Marriage is much more than that. Marriage is not an individual act. It is not an individual right. It is a sacred moment when two individuals -- a woman and a man -- become one. The family and community as a whole recognize and celebrate it because we all know that marriage means much more to all of us. We all share in the success of a marriage. We all mourn if a marriage fails. We do not live for ourselves. That is one of the first lessons taught to us as children. And we spend a lifetime growing in our understanding of what that means.

When the Supreme Court refused to declare interracial marriages illegal in 1967, it did so not on the basis of an individual right to a relationship, but on what "two becoming one" means -- the inherent right to procreation, the inherent right to create new life within the sacrament of marriage.

The sacredness of life is central to our collective humanity. That understanding, which Rabbi Bisno acknowledges when he writes of the "inherent divinity" in each individual, is why I (and many others) believe so fundamentally and argue so relentlessly for life from the moment of conception to natural death.

The sacredness of life, so central to Catholic understanding, is why we in our faith tradition dedicate ourselves to the service of humanity. This is not something we simply do to occupy our time on Earth. It is a core understanding of the nature of humanity, of who we are to each other, of what we must be to each other.

Marriage represents that core responsibility not only to ourselves, but to our community, to our future, to the generations to come. A husband and wife in marriage are part of a whole, a whole that transcends nationality, ethnicity and, most of all, the individual. The community celebrates marriage because marriage is the future.

Same-sex marriage separates -- definitively and biologically -- procreation from marriage. It equates marriage with the right to drive a car, to vote in an election, to buy a home. Simply one individual right among many.

When we separate the two essential pillars of marriage, namely, the selfless love of wife and husband from the creation of life, then marriage just doesn't mean that much anymore. It can be anything. Or nothing. Because the essential definition has been whitewashed away.

Rather than gay marriage being some kind of barometer of tolerance, it is actually a gauge of how far we have come in our growing indifference to marriage as critical to society and our understanding of the essential importance of marriage within society.

Marriage is not a right, but a pledge of self-sacrifice to the present and the future. Marriage is the pictures on the wall of the generations. Marriage is the creation and nurturing of new life, of new family, and it is God's promise that there will be a new future, there will be new hope, there will be new life. We need to do all we can as a society to support marriage, not dilute it.

As I put down my pen now, I look forward to discussing all this with my dear friend Rabbi Bisno.


David A. Zubik is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.


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